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Ken Wilber on egolessness

RodrigoRodrigo São Paulo, Brazil Veteran

I'd like to discuss this extract from a Ken Wilber book with you. It seems to me that we expect a lot from people who have a role of spiritual guides. If they don't resemble the stereotypical image of a pure saint, we tend to discredit them. In the text, Wilber talks a little about this and what would be a misconceived idea of what is egolessness. What do you think?

One of the many reasons we have trouble with the notion of egoless is that people want their egoless sages to fulfill all their fantasies of saintly or spiritual, which usually means dead from the neck down, without fleshy wants or desires, gently smiling all the time. All of the things that people typically have trouble with money, food, sex, relationships, desire they want their saints to be without. Egoless sages who are above all that is what people want. Talking heads is what they want. Religion, they believe, will simply get rid of all baser instincts, drives and relationships, and hence they look to religion, not for advice on how to live life with enthusiasm, but on how to avoid it, repress it, deny it, escape it.

In other words, the typical person wants the spiritual sage to be less than a person, somehow devoid of all the messy, juicy, complex, pulsating, desiring, urging forces that drive most human beings. We expect our sages to be an absence of all that drives us! All the things that frighten us, confuse us, torment us, confound us: we want our sages to be untouched by them altogether. And that absence, that vacancy, that less than personal, is what we often mean by egoless.


These great movers and shakers were not small egos; they were, in the very best sense of the term, big egos, precisely because the ego (the functional vehicle of the gross realm) can and does exist alongside the soul (the vehicle of the subtle) and the Self (vehicle of the causal). To the extent these great teachers moved the gross realm, they did so with their egos, because the ego is the functional vehicle of that realm. They were not, however, identified merely with their egos (that’s a narcissist), they simply found their egos plugged into a radiant Kosmic source.

The complete article:


  • personperson Don't believe everything you think the void Veteran

    I'd say that describes pretty well my ideal of a spiritual teacher. And my reading of Buddhism tells me that freedom from such passions and emotions is the goal.

    So if Ken Wilbur is saying that the goal is something else I guess I don't agree and am not really sure what he thinks it is.

    Also I can take issue with his wording, he says "the typical person wants the spiritual sage to be less than a person". That could easily be expressed as the typical person wants the spirtual sage to be MORE than a person.

    That is the ideal though and there aren't many of them around so practically speaking most of us will get guidance from teachers who are a bit messy and possibly even more helpful to us in that they are more relatable.

  • pegembarapegembara Veteran
    edited August 2017

    I for one expect a spiritual teacher to be beyond wanting "all of the things that people typically have trouble with money, food, sex, relationships".

    Why else do we put our trust if they are not that different. Blind leading the blind. That is actually not expecting a lot from such self proclaimed teachers.

    We expect our sages to be an absence of all that drives us!

    No. But I expect them not to be pulled by desire and anger as if led by the carrot hanging on a stick. That means they have not even dis-identified with the feelings.

  • federicafederica seeker of the clear blue sky Its better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to speak out and remove all doubt Moderator

    I think he's being very presumptuous in declaring that he has a handle on 'what people want'.
    He seems to be taking on the authority of diagnosing everyone's flaw with regard to attitude towards a Guru or teacher, and makes a declaration about said Masters' egos and faults. So he picks holes in both the Teacher and the Pupil.

    If that isn't a sign of an overblown ego, I don't know what is.

    (Besides, many Buddhists do not subscribe to the notion of a 'soul', so that theory is kinda blown out the water, for me. ;) )

  • Tee Hee. o:)
    Well said @federica

    "A certain person may have, as you say, a wonderful presence: I do not know. What I do know is that he has a perfectly delightful absence."
    ― Idries Shah, Reflections

    Ay caramba. What we need is a test for students ...

    As a dervish once said: 'The requirements of a teacher are to provide what a student needs.'

    I am hoping for free fish which is what I want but probably will just get exactly what I deserve ... :3

  • karastikarasti Breathing Minnesota Moderator

    I find it presumptive as well, and a bit odd to hear him speaking of souls, and subtle and causal planes/energies. It's also possible his view has changed over the years, the article is from 1998. My sangha leader has met him and been on retreat with him, and really likes him. I don't so much, I just find him "pokey" and kind of boring to read.

    For myself, when I met my teacher, I never considered that he was without ego or infallible. He takes his promises to his students very seriously when they take refuge vows with him, and he's very devoted to his students. I don't know anyone, though, who has super-human expectations of him. He talks about how much he misses his mother, and how his father is elderly and not well and it's hard for my teacher to be away for half the year. He discusses the issues he has with living in our world, especially in the US, and his challenges in traveling and eating and all sorts of things. He doesn't put his titles or monkhook on a pedestal, and neither does anyone else. Perhaps that is part of the issue. We want to blame the students for putting the teacher on the pedestal, but how many of those teachers put themselve there, first?

  • RodrigoRodrigo São Paulo, Brazil Veteran

    Thank you for all your inputs, they were very enlightening.

  • Neither is it the finger. :-)

  • I think I gone dun wrong again ... :3

  • There are a lot of teachers who've built their own pedestals who then find themselves severely lacking and so build teachings around how that lacking is actually 'spiritual'.

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